District 65 school board candidates discuss LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum

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Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/ Skokie School District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Avenue. At a D65 working board meeting, members discussed a new social studies curriculum to be completed in June.

Olivia Alexander, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Current Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board vice president and school board candidate Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan began her term in 2019 as the district unveiled its first LGBTQ+ Equity Week. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, inclusivity is an issue close to Lindsay-Ryan’s heart, and she said the week was an important step toward progress and inclusion. 

The creation of the Equity Week first came after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a 2019 bill mandating the inclusion of LGBTQ+ history into all public schools by 2020. Now, two years later, the district is creating an LGBTQ+-inclusive Social Studies curriculum. 

The curriculum involves nine equity components informed by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards, and is slated to be released in June. To many, the curriculum may indicate progress — but even the implementation of an LGBTQ+ Equity Week received some criticism.

The district’s overall inclusivity, especially as it relates to LGBTQ+ Equity Week, has come into focus throughout the District 65 school board race ahead of the April 6 election. Some community members criticized candidate Marquise Weatherspoon’s potential stance on LGBTQ+ issues because she opted her children out of the week’s activities. Weatherspoon has since expressed support for the LGBTQ+ curriculum.

Lindsay-Ryan said the updated curriculum is important because it will create a safer and more inclusive school environment. As the target of a recent homophobic hate crime, she said it’s essential that every student has the right to feel safe at school. 

“LGBTQ+ harassment is still incredibly significant,” Lindsay-Ryan said. “Kids are getting bullied, kids are getting harassed, kids are getting harmed daily in our school systems, and so it is incredibly important that we provide a safe place for all students to learn.”

Weatherspoon said she has since learned how a more expansive curriculum can help support LGBTQ+ students, increase awareness and make the district more inclusive. Weatherspoon said it’s important to start inclusive education at a young age because it will lead students to be “more supportive later on in life.” 

Current board member Soo La Kim, said the inclusion of LGBTQ+ curriculum is another effort to make the district’s instruction more representative of who its students and families are. 

Kim said one of the reasons she became involved in the school district was to address the district’s outdated and Eurocentric curriculum — and the new one has been several years in the making. 

Candidate Donna Wang Su (School of Professional Studies MPPA ‘14), a District 65 parent and program manager of the Farley Center at Northwestern, said after witnessing the curriculum firsthand while sitting in on her third grader’s class, she found it thought-provoking and fully supports its inclusion. 

“I felt very comfortable with what was being shared,” Su said. “What the third grade teacher was presenting was very grade-appropriate in the sense that children could understand.”

Lindsay-Ryan said one of the largest misconceptions about the curriculum is that it isn’t suited for children. Many people believe in order to talk about sexual identity, you have to talk about sex, she said, which isn’t necessarily true. 

Rather, Lindsay-Ryan said the educators who created the curriculum worked to ensure the content was developmentally appropriate for each grade level and provided students an entry point to understand these identities.

“In actuality, there are many children within this community, parents who are in this community and we need to see ourselves in our school space as well,” Lindsay-Ryan said.

While the district’s various equity weeks that honor people of different identities are a start and valuable, she said the curriculum overhaul is critical because LGBTQ+ representation should be constant and “all groups should see themselves, always.”

Candidate Ndona Muboyayi also believes one week isn’t enough time to address any group’s inclusion. Instead of having equity weeks, as the district does now, Muboyayi said the historical achievements and contributions of LGBTQ+ people should be included within the regular curriculum. 

“Black history and LGBTQIA+ history is American history, it’s world history,” Muboyayi said. “Why does it have to be separated (from the standard curriculum)?”

Joey Hailpern, a current board member, said he hopes greater inclusivity will lead to lower levels of self-hate and decreased suicide rates among LGBTQ+ identifying students and staff. 

He said it’s important that the curriculum works to help to promote not only tolerance, but also acceptance within families and the greater community. 

“(It’s) about making sure that all of our students see themselves in the curriculum, and they all see the different pathways for their own lives and to contribute to society… which hasn’t really been something that a lot of school districts have been afforded for a long time,” Hailpern said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Donna Wang Su’s degree. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @oliviagalex

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